Thursday was perhaps the longest day of Passion Week, since events occurred deep into the night and continued straight on into Friday. On Thursday the disciples shared the Last Supper and heard Jesus speak about things they didn’t understand. “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” (Mark 14:22-24, NIV)
Little Bible Mysteries
On Thursday Jesus and his disciples ate the Last Supper together. While the disciples were probably still a little giddy over the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus continued to prepare them for what was coming. First, he reminded them that God provides when we do not see a way. In terms of logistics, Mark 14 recounts how he told them to find a man carrying a water pot, who would show them a large room already prepared for their supper. Who was that man? Who prepared the Upper Room?
I have a feeling that in the Kingdom we will get to know many such anonymous heroes of the faith, who quietly worked behind the scenes to fulfill God’s mission and to do what Christ asked of them without seeking credit. How many good deeds would we do if nobody ever knew? Jesus was showing the disciples that there was more about love than public display of affection…
He knew that Judas was going to betray him and that Peter was going to deny knowing him. Certainly the sacrifice of the Passover lamb was not lost on him, and if you think about how Jesus must have felt during dinner, it is an incredibly poignant moment. At dinner he told them frankly that they would all desert him, and all protested that they’d never do such a thing! He knew they loved him, and he knew they’d fail.
Have you ever had good intentions, and promised the Lord you’d never forsake him? And then you did it anyway? Remember what happened with the disciples and take heart! (During Passion Week they turned their backs on their best friend, and ended the week feeling hopeless and defeated. But something happened that changed their minds and changed the world!)
Human Desires, Heavenly Instruction
In Luke’s account they argued about who would be the greatest in the new kingdom, and he used this time to teach them. If you knew you had but two days to live, what would you share with your family and friends? What final things would you say to them? Jesus told them (and us) to love one another. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35, NIV).
Christians celebrate this day as Maundy Thursday, and I always wondered what that meant. “Maundy” comes from the Latin word mandatum, or commandment, reflecting Jesus’ words “I give you a new commandment.”
In this case, Jesus literally demonstrated his lesson by humbling himself as a servant and washing their feet. (And in a land without indoor plumbing, dust was not the only thing that made feet stinky and dirty—which is why foot washing was such a degrading task.) Jesus told them to serve one another, and to lead through service.
“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13:14-15, NIV) The church today celebrates this as “Maundy Thursday” as the day Jesus performed this act of service, but the word actually comes through old French and Middle English from the Latin mandatum, or mandate. Jesus said, “a new mandate I give to you, that you love one another”, and demonstrated it by serving.
The Opposite of Congress
Servant leaders are a rare commodity, and you have to believe Jesus thought this was a pretty important concept, since he emphasized it with this very personal object lesson. Imagine having Jesus kneel in front of YOUR chair, looking up and locking eyes for a moment as he cleanses your dirty feet. What kind of person have those feet carried? Where all have those feet been? His eyes see deeply into yours, full of knowledge and forgiveness as he washes the unwholesome residue of your journey away. Along with Peter (that OTHER cowardly denier) we say, “No Lord! I am not worthy!” Still looking compassionately into our eyes, Jesus says, “Yes, my child, you are.”
On Thursday night they go out to the Mount of Olives to Gethsemane, where Jesus prays, and the disciples fall asleep. (We are incredulous that they do, but seriously, have YOU ever fallen asleep while praying? Thought so!) Judas brokers his deal with the Pharisees, and they come out with armed guards to arrest Jesus.
The Impossible Arrest
John’s take on this is interesting, to me one of the most fascinating vignettes about Jesus’ power in all of Scripture: “Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons. Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?” “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “I AM he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.)
When Jesus said, “I AM he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.” (John 18:3-5, NIV, emphasis mine). When just the sound of his voice was enough to make a group of tough armed guards fall down, do you think they could have taken Jesus by force unless he allowed it? No way! It would have been impossible for guards to capture Jesus, which he demonstrated over and over.
Up until now, Jesus avoided capture whenever he chose (See Luke 4:30, John 2:4, 7:30, 8:59, and 10:39) but at this point he allowed himself to be taken. He told Peter to put his sword away because he intends to drink from the cup that has been set before him.
Again, he is a volunteer on this mission, not a victim of circumstance.
Lots Going On
Thursday is a busy night. Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss. Peter denies knowing Jesus three times, locks eyes with Jesus across an open courtyard, and then goes out and weeps bitterly. John is close enough to Caiaphas’ house to record what transpired there, but technically ALL the disciples betrayed Jesus because there is NO ONE who tries to stand up for him against the Sanhedrin…
It’s easy from a distance to judge these cowards until you stop and think: has there ever been a time when YOU didn’t acknowledge knowing him? When YOU didn’t stand up for him, if even in the quietness of your own heart when temptation to sin beckoned you? I understand the cowardly disciples better when I take an honest look at MYSELF.
All the Way
The high priest’s guards blindfolded and beat Jesus, saying, “Prophesy! Who hit you?” And things were just getting started. This sleepless night initiates an exhausting journey to the cross, which Jesus could have chosen to avoid at any time. The Son of God did not HAVE to go through with this. He had a choice in every moment, and could have called upon Angels to minister to him, to end the exhaustion and the pain and suffering. Yeah, we all might have been lost, but HE would still have been the Son of God. So what made him do it?
One of my favorite verses is tucked quietly into John’s account: “It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” (John 13:1) Jesus went to trial, endured betrayals and beatings and humiliation and the cross because he loved us all the way to the end. May we love one another in the same way, and not just at Christmas and Easter…
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